Work in progress: painting after Leonardo da Vinci lost masterpiece: the Battle of Anghiari, 2005, oil on top of acrylic underpainting, 148 x 118 cm
3rd June 2005
This picture started out based on a drawing of (I think the cartoon for) the Leonardo masterpiece The Battle of Anghiari touched up by Rubens, a picture by Rubens after this drawing commonly known as The Crossed Swords (which I've not been able to find on the net), ditto a painting based on this drawing by Salvador Dali, an etching of the drawing by Edelinck, a panel of elements partially copied from the actual painting (the Doria panel) and another drawing done from the painting.
I have been looking at this other drawing and more closely at the Doria panel. The panel and the drawing appear to have been copied from different stages in the evolution of the original as it was being painted on the wall. For instance, compare the heads of the two rightmost figures. The crossed swords drawing I think may have been done from a cartoon. I think this because though nicely dynamic as a drawing, when translated into paint it becomes static; beautiful and very sculptural but missing the verve of the drawing.
The problem lies I think precisely with those crossed swords. They impart too much of a ballance and symmetry to the composition. In a sense it is too safe. I mean, the composition is extraordinary but at the same time somewhat ordinary.... just a bit artificial, staged, awkward, missing the dirty aspects of life... it is as if striving for an effect rather than blowing one's mind by audacity.
Enter the Duck of Death (I'm quoting Little Joe in Eastwood's Unforgiven). Leonardo put the Duck of Death on the head of one of his riders. it makes perfect compositional sense, though not quite resolved. It is totally outrageous. Moroeover it gives sense to the horrible grimacing and exotic dress of the combatants.
I think that in this painting, Leonardo da Vinci, the armaments designer was making a moral statement about the nature of war: a ridiculous activity pursued by grotesques.
Exotic knights fight theatrically over a banner. Beneath them is the reality of war: men committing murder. Of course they're ridiculous. To anyone engrosed like Leonardo in the marvel that is nature, there cannot be anything more ridiculous than people slaughtering each other over a bit of cloth.
And the figure on bottom left is trying to get the hell out of there, much more sense than have him there acting as if he could protect himself from the horse just by raising his shield.